Greetings all -
For those of you who live in the desert cities of Southern California, including the Mojave Desert, I am pleased to announce that rattlesnake season has officially opened! Well, "pleased" might be an overstatement.
I live in a part of Palm Springs that fronts the San Jacinto Wilderness and San Gabriel mountains. Every year about this time I find those little slithery critters in my garage, on my porch, or am called to my neighbor's homes to help capture and relocate these little rep's, whom I hesitate to call invaders (I imagine that there is much discussion in rattlesnake warrens about the human invaders). They seem most active after five (cocktail hour?) or in the early mornings - hiker's and dogs beware (seriously, keep your dogs leashed - I know, I have a Jack Russell Terrorist)!
Why do my neighbors call me? They believe I won't get bitten (professional courtesy possibly?)
Truth be told, rattlesnakes are extremely passive creatures unless we are talking about the green mojave version, which is a rattlesnake on steroids. Fortunately the greens are not generally found in my locale. I've encountered them in Arizona (near Sedona) and was impressed by their aggressive behaviors. The local varieties just want to get along with us, but their timidity also makes them dangerous - it is easy not to spot one until you are upon it. Even then they will not go out of their way to strike. Many times I've been forced to wrangle one into a trash can or ice chest that is then carried a few hundred yards from the house and released, and rarely do they attempt to bite the pole that guides them into such receptacles.
I shouldn't need to state that killing them is not an option, and is an ignorant thing to do. However, much like the attack behaviors that people often reflexively engage in at the commencement of their divorce or partnership break-up, the limbic part of the brain does tend to go into reactive over-drive when surprised by one of these creatures.
If you cross paths with one, some recommendations are as follows:
- Secure your pets. Allowing your dog to watch you catch a snake will cause your animal to offer you unwanted assistance, and to encourage it to interact with the rattler the next time it finds one. Since snakes move slowly, many dogs will not notice them and so become deathly curious. However, if they learn that the scent of the snake means something to toy with then you've trained your dog to become a suicide bomber. This same point applies to children.
- Be alert this time of year. Scan the ground as you walk. If you are in the desert or on a trail, the obvious choice is to move on. If you are golfing, pay attention to the edges of the course where they front the desert. Do not poke at the snake, and do not toss stones or objects at it. Keep a healthy distance. Be attentive to insistent barks from your dog, as several years ago I heard Jake outside in the yard bark, bark, barking at something and after 5 or 10 minutes of this I finally got the message and found him several feet from a curled rattler. The first thing I did was grab my pup to carry him inside and closed off his ability to get back out until I'd carried the snake away outside of his view.
- Consider keeping your yard clear of debris or objects that make a good place for snakes to hide under or behind. I try to scan my yard visually as often as I can remember, and I want a clear view. I think one reason they like my garage, beside an easy entry under a door, is that rats and mice can sometimes be found there. Keep your ears open - rattlers are good at rattling. I've often heard them before seeing them, which is great if you like adrenaline rushes.
- If working in the yard, watch where you step and place your hands during this month window or so (and again in September/October). It is now breeding time, and the babies abound in the Fall. In the Palm Springs area the snakes tend to emerge with the first consistent hot weather usually beginning in late March and early April. I am on rattlesnake alert through May. They tend to become less frequently seen during the summer months, except in the early mornings or late evenings. I remember one camping trip in August to Organ Pipe in southern Arizona when I was taking pictures at dusk, only to suddenly notice there was a snake every fifteen feet or so (I slept outside on a cot that night, and awakened to observe a very large specimen 10 feet away crawling over a fallen saguaro - I was younger and more foolish then).
- If you find the snake some place where he is not only not welcome, but causes you a worry that unless he is transhipped elsewhere he will be lounging around, and assuming you are extremely cautious and not hyperventilating, capture him and carry him away if you are otherwise disposed to do so (i.e., not because I suggested this was a good idea). I use one of those extendable tree limb cutting poles with the large metal hook and the nearest deep container within reach - usually a trash can or ice chest with a lid, placed on its side as close to the snake as I can safely be (five feet). Rattlers want to get away from you and will wind their way into these, where they will coil at the bottom. With the pole I can hook the snake mid-body and drag it into the can. Better to avoid the snake altogether, but I'm not about to leave one in my garage or in the yard. At the same time, if you don't know what you are going to do and don't already have the tools to do it with, this may not be a good solution. Forget those nature shows where people capture rattlers and stick them in burlap bags. Never let your hands or feet closer than five feet or so (a rule I often break). Conventional wisdom says they can strike up to half their body length.
- Another option is to keep an eye on the critter and call someone for assistance.
- If you wrestle one into a container, resist the impulse to peer into it at close range.
- Now you have the problem of what to do with it. If you are in a residential area consider calling animal control. Don't put it on the back seat of your SUV for a trip to a safe unloading zone. In my case, I can walk a hundred yards or so and flip the box on its side and dump the snake out. I've yet to (knowingly) bump into the same snake again.
Now, rattlesnakes are really common in areas that are rocky or abut the desert. Around Palm Springs these areas include Chino Hills, the Mesa, Araby, and south Palm Springs around the Canyon Country Club. Expect to encounter one at almost anytime now in the Indian Canyons. You are not nearly as likely to see one in a highly residential area. But if you live on the edge of the desert, sooner or later you will meet one close up.
Here is yesterday's round-up (found inside my neighbor's house):
Okay, this little guy looks just like the granite rocks and yellow weeds
that dot the local landscape -
here's a closer look:
Other Rattlers I've Met -
Move-Away from Neighbor's House 2009
And Surrounding Environs 2007
And some I've not met,...
~ Be careful out there and protect your pets! (And bathe them too!) ~